Abusers aim to throw survivors off-balance by exerting power and control at random times. A safety plan is a form of protection that allows a survivor to prepare what they can do to keep themselves and their children safe. It is a personalized and practical plan that includes ways to be safe while in a relationship, when planning to leave or after you have left. This might involve how they can escape, where they can go, who they can rely on to help them and additional protections they can put into place to possibly stay gone for good. When safety planning, it is important to remember that you know your situation best and to trust your instincts. You are your own expert. Think about what you have done in the past to stay safe and how you can use it in the future to remain safe. You have the right to protect yourself until you are out of danger.
Some of the precautions for safety may seem obvious, but it can be hard to think clearly or make logical decisions during a moment of crisis. Having a safety plan laid out in advance can help you protect yourself and others in high stress situations.
Our Safety planning resource outlines important information to keep in mind while creating a safety plan.
In safety planning, the idea is that once you get away from the abuser, you may want to get an order of protection, press charges, file for divorce or file for custody of your children. In these instances, having proof of the abuse is only going to help you. Evidence that can help you may include:
- Copies of police reports
- Medical records detailing injuries or stress related diagnoses
- Photos or videos of any injuries or damage caused by the abuser
See the list of 23 types of evidence a survivor can collect for more examples. Make sure you can collect evidence in a way that doesn’t put you in danger.
If you need to leave in a hurry, you won’t have time to collect your things. If possible, pack a bag with daily necessities, important documents, ideally some cash and things that your children and pets will need, and store it at a friend’s house, your place of work or somewhere that your abusive partner won’t find it. Some items you may want to consider packing include:
- Birth certificates and social security cards for yourself and your children
- Driver’s license and/or passports
- W2’s and pays subs
- Work permits
- Government benefits cards
- Green card or immigration papers
- Marriage, divorce and custody papers
- Legal protection or restraining orders and records of any police reports you have
- Health insurance and medical records
- Your child’s school records
- Immunization records
- Financial records and bank account numbers
- Apartment rental agreement, lease or house deed
- Car title, registration and documentation
- Cash and a prepaid credit card so they can’t be traced
- Credit cards and the PIN numbers you need to withdraw cash
- ATM card
- Small valuables you could sell if necessary
- A post office box or safe address where you can forward your mail
- Phone calling card
- Prepaid cell phone or cell phone with a new contract and a new number
- Your address book of phone contacts
- Current medications and prescriptions for yourself and your children
- Eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and any other medical devices that you or your children need
- Pets, their records and any needed food, medicines, leash and bedding
TIP: Leave a spare set of keys with someone you trust in case the abuser takes yours to try and keep you from leaving.
The next time you feel thinks start to escalate or the next time you have a window of opportunity to leave when the abuser isn’t around, plan where you can go. This could be:
- An emergency shelter (some may need advanced notice, so contact and advocate there). Many shelters will accommodate pets or will offer a nearby free boarding service until you can find a permanent place. Read more about planning for pet safety.
- A friend or family member’s house that the abuser doesn’t know the location of or that is far enough away that it will be difficult for them to get to you (just make sure that you know the custody laws in your state if you take your children across state lines).
- If feasible, a hotel or apartment that you pay for with cash so the abuser can not track you there.
In best case scenarios, the survivor escapes the abuser, presses charges, the abuser goes to jail for a long time and never bothers the survivor again and the survivor begins a new, safe, healthy life. Yes, This CAN happen!
But unless that ideal scenarios occurs, the abuser will use tactics to ramp up control if they suspect the survivor is preparing to leave. This is often the most dangerous time for a survivor. Prepare for this by thinking out different scenarios that could happen to you and what you would do. For example, if the abuser always shuts the bedroom door before they become violent, can you unlock a window ahead of time? How will you communicate with your children?
After a survivor leaves an abusive partner, they need to stay vigilant to ensure their safety. Read more about warning signs that an abusive partner may increase their violence. Consider taking the following steps:
- Secure an order of protection that will give police a reason to arrest the abuser if they try to contact, find or stalk you.
- Alert your place of employment, child’s school and give them a picture of the abuser so they can alert you it they come around.
- Vary your routes to and from school, work, and if possible, change up your schedule or routine.
- Take a break from social media to give your abuser less opportunity to track or harass you
- Change your phone number and hide your mailing address
- Plan your response if the abuser reaches out with promises or threats if you don’t return.
Leaving an abusive partner can be a big change. Relying on oneself and possibly adjusting to a new environment can be stressful and disorienting, even if you feel safer.